On the surface, Minnesota might feel like a welcome sight for Penn State after what it saw in Ann Arbor last weekend.

The Lions were humbled by Michigan, to say the least. Coming off a game like that, facing a team with less talent might seem like the remedy to cure Penn State’s woes. That’s true that the Lions won’t take on a team with athletes like Michigan. And at home, where the Lions have played far better in the James Franklin era, some might think Penn State is a lock to get back on track.

James Franklin isn’t taking Minnesota lightly, and neither are Lions players. At least they aren’t publicly.

But if that’s the case in any way on Saturday, the Lions are in for another humbling loss.

In some ways, it would almost be better for James Franklin’s team to see another top-25 team. That wouldn’t be hard to get fired up for.

But given what Minnesota has going right now, this is not an ideal matchup for Penn State right now. Not at all.


Penn State’s biggest weakness is obvious. The Lions can’t stop the run. Having zero starting linebackers on the field will do that, as will playing walk-ons and fourth-stringers. The Lions are banged up at the position, and there’s no guarantee that’ll be any different on Saturday.

The Lions currently rank dead-last in the B1G against the run. To say that it’s been a struggle would be an understatement.

Look at what Penn State did against the run in its first four games:

Kent State 150 0
Pitt 341 3
Temple 38 3
Michigan 326 6
Total 855 12

That’s an average of 214 rushing yards and three touchdowns per contest. Against Power Five teams, that’s an average of 333 rushing yards and 4.5 touchdowns per contest.

Yes, it’s a small sample size, but did anything you saw from the Penn State defense last week make it seem like those run-stopping issues would be fixed in a week?

Minnesota has not faced the quality of opponents that Penn State has. That we know. Still, the Gophers have looked dominant running the ball.

In three games — all wins — Minnesota has 11 rushing scores and averaged 228 yards on the ground. Minnesota has four guys averaging at least 45 rushing yards per contest, one of whom happens to be quarterback Mitch Leidner.

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Like Michigan, Minnesota is stocked with backfield weapons. Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary were having plenty of success before Shannon Brooks returned last week. And Brooks, who broke out as a freshman last year, looked good. He’ll likely be in line for even more snaps against Penn State.

The challenge for Penn State will be not wearing down with this versatile running game. That’s been a big issue for the Lions so far. They rank 112th of 128 FBS teams in time of possession. Just getting off the field could be difficult.

When the Lions do get off the field, they’ll face a Minnesota defense that’s been dominant against weaker offensive lines. Led by the emerging Steven Richardson, Minnesota is seventh in FBS with 9.7 tackles for loss per game.

Fortunately for Trace McSorley, Tai’yon Devers will be out on Saturday with an ankle injury. Otherwise, he’d be in some serious danger:

One of the things Penn State does have going is the help of Matt Limegrover. The former Minnesota offensive coordinator and offensive line coach was considered a key offseason addition to Franklin’s staff.

He spent five years in Minneapolis. If anyone should know how to defend against the Gophers, it’s Limegrover. He also has knowledge of the Gopher offense that few — if any — outside of Tracy Claeys’ locker room has. It won’t be an issue to get him fired up to face the team that let him go.

Getting the rest of the Lions on his level might be a different story.

By most standards, Minnesota is considered a notch below the Lions. That has nothing to do with the product that’ll be on the field Saturday. That’s based more on national perception.

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If PSU falls to the Gophers at home, many would consider it a bad loss. And if Penn State wins, nobody is changing their opinions of the Lions. Really, it wouldn’t as bad of a loss as some PSU fans would think because Minnesota is an experienced team that could compete for a B1G West title this year. That’s exactly why the Gophers could be a tougher matchup than some might realize.

There won’t be the same kind of juice for this one that there was for Pitt or Michigan. There might not even be as much juice as there was for Temple.

But if the Lions aren’t ready to roll for this one, the Gophers have all the qualities needed to prolong Penn State’s frustrating start.